Sharing vs. Selling

C.R.E.A.M. by esymai on Etsy

So if sharing online is about validation, what if the objects being shared are for sale, and you stand to benefit from their sale? Does money always ruin it?There is a lot of sharing and curating going on of objects that are available for sale somewhere. See Svpply, Fancy, Pinterest, large swaths of Tumblr, Polyvore, Delicious, Wanelo. Users of services like these are gaining followers and influence, expressing and discovering themselves, and having fun, but they aren’t benefiting financially from their curation. Some would say it would be a conflict of interest for them to do so, or would result in less compelling content. Or take the fun out of it. Or feel spammy.

The discouragement of self-promotion is one reason why Pinterest works so well, and why it’s often more compelling to follow someone’s favorites on Etsy than it is to follow the items they’re selling. When someone other than the seller says a thing is good, people listen. If a lot of people say a thing is good, even better. Especially if those people have influence. This is also a really simple way to think about the basis of PageRank.

It makes sense when you think about it. An endorsement from someone with nothing material to gain from the endorsement is more compelling and trustworthy than one from the person doing the selling, particularly if you know or admire the endorser. Someone constantly pushing what they’re selling is like someone who talks about him or herself all the time: boring, and suspect. Big brands have gradually figured this out as they learn how to talk to people on the internet.

So what if the people you followed for their good taste made money when you bought something they shared? Would it change your perception of their curation? I wonder if such a system would ultimately ruin good curation or further motivate it.

The closest thing I know of to this currently is ShopSense from ShopStyle. Its users are proprietors of fashion blogs and editorial properties—people who, for me anyway, don’t have nearly the authority and influence as the people I follow on Etsy and elsewhere. There must also be some interesting Amazon Associates sites out there.

The experience I’m thinking of though is more like what you get when you keep up with a really well-curated vintage shop on Etsy (there are many; see my favorites). The shop owner obviously has a financial incentive for their work, but is also just genuinely excited to share the discoveries they’ve made.